Ethics of Foreign Students: Piracy in China
The British Telegraph reports (http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20100905073433770&mode=print) on a study by Surrey University that "foreign students are attempting to bluff their way into British universities by parroting education websites in their applications." Apparently, they are using phrases from the internet in their personal statements about why they want to attend a chosen university. In some cases, applicants said they are choosing the university because of its "global reputation" and "excellent teaching quality." The phrases were later found on the university’s website. A motivating factor appears to be the dramatic rise in foreign applicants admitted to British universities. Undoubtedly, cash-strapped universities that have suffered during the financial downturn are looking for new ways to bring in tuition revenue and foreign students typically pay a great deal more than their domestic counterparts.
According to the study, one student said the university "enables students to develop their competencies for working in multinational and multicultural environments," while the business school's website also used the wording "multinational and multicultural environment." Another student cited the university’s “global reputation for both teaching and research in this sector.” The phrase matched a quotation from the head of school. Of the 60 applications looked at, all but three were from students abroad, with almost half being made by Chinese students.
Anne Hayner of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame has compiled (http://ctl.iupui.edu/common/uploads/library/CTL/IDD923840.pdf) resources on cheating or 'sharing' in a study of academic ethics across cultures. She identifies the following attitudes in the Chinese culture that creates a propensity for cheating: it's a way of life; it's a skill that everyone should develop to succeed in the world; 'intellectual property' is a foreign concept; and it helps to save face and maintain group harmony.
I've taught a lot of Chinese students and I have to say that cheating is not as endemic as the British study seems to suggest. Moreover, hard work (and respect for teachers) IS endemic to their culture. That's why China has become the second largest economy in the world in the very short period of time since that the country transitioned from an entirely state-controlled economy to state control with capitalistic tendencies. I also think generalizations about the Chinese culture are dangerous. Most of us would agree that China doesn't respect intellectual property rights like we do in the U.S. One might rationalize it by saying it's necessary for the Chinese to copy software and other U.S. created products to catch up with the rest of the world economically. Piracy is wrong and China does have laws against it but they often go unenforced.
David Leonhardt wrote a piece for the NY Times on January 19 that reports two lists: (http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/19/software-piracy-in-china/)
First, the top 10 countries ranked by 2009 sales of computer hardware — mainframes, desktops, laptops and the like — in billions of dollars:
1. United States $158
2. China $64.4
3. Japan $54
4. Germany $24.4
5. Britain $23.5
6. France $19.3
7. Brazil $14.2
8. Italy $13.1
9. Australia $12.8
10. India $11.9
And here are the top 10 ranked by software sales, again for 2009 and in billions of dollars:
1. United States $137.9
2. Japan $23.4
3. Germany $20
4. Britain $16.8
5. France $12.6
6. Canada $7.3
7. Italy $6.3
8. China $5.4
9. Netherlands $5.4
10. Australia $4.8
As Charles Freeman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says, “it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense” for China to be in such different places on the two lists. It strongly suggests that China is buying its computer hardware and copying much of its computer software."
The theft of intellectual property is a serious crime. The best way to handle it is a tricky matter. Obviously, we can't stop doing business with the Chinese because of the problem. We can hope in the long run that the technology industry in China advances to the stage where it starts to develop new and innovative software that other countries want so that China can feed its appetite for economc growth. Until then, the best approach is to work behind the scenes to exert pressure on the Chinese to become a more responsible partner in the global marketplace. It would be a big mistake to try and embarass the Chinese because of their unethical practices since maneuvering them into losing face won't get you where you want to be with the Chinese.